Sometimes two equally appealing opportunities come along at the same time. No two offers are ever truly identical, but as an academic exercise, let’s pretend they are. Where is there room to negotiate for better? Or even if they aren’t exactly the same, how do you decide which is the best fit for you?
Be aware that a job is not just a job title and a salary. There are so many layers to a job offer. You can rarely negotiate benefits. You certainly can’t negotiate company culture. But there is room for a few asks. When negotiating a job offer, you probably have three asks max, so prioritize the ones that are the most important to you.
The largest area with room to negotiate is in terms of your cash compensation offer. Money. Oftentimes, job seekers are afraid to ask for more money for fear of appearing greedy. It’s not greedy to ask for a salary equal to or higher than your last salary (based on experience) or what you need to take care of yourself, family, and any other financial obligations. If you have a specific reason for needing a higher salary, say so.
Negotiating money tells you so much more than whether you’ll get more money or not. When you engage a prospective employer in a conversation about money, you get to see a glimmer of how they respond when pushed and how they handle conflict. A lot of information can be gleaned from this one conversation. If they become hostile, perhaps this is not the right position for you.
There are several different types of cash compensation that you can negotiate:
- Salary – Your stated annual earnings. Sometimes companies have clear salary bands and they may not have a lot of flexibility, so you may not be able to negotiate this. The salary bands can feel restrictive to you as an individual but they’re there to encourage equity.
- Signing Bonus – A bonus paid when you sign your initial employment contract. Most candidates think there’s a pool of funds available for signing bonuses, but that’s rarely the case. Often if it’s at the end of the year and there’s money leftover from someone who has left the company, you may have more luck negotiating this. They may just not have funds available, but it never hurts to ask.
- End-of-Year Bonus – A bonus paid at the end of the company’s fiscal year. These are often pre-determined, but again, it never hurts to ask. And if it isn’t mentioned in your initial offer, you should definitely ask. Don’t be like Clark Griswold and assume you know that there will be a bonus or what it will be.
- Management By Objective (MBOs) – These are bonuses tied to specific tasks or goals. In sales, pipelines can take months to build, meaning the salesperson receives no additional benefit from their job for some period of time. Recognizing that, companies often create MBOs during a ramp-up period that might be activity based. For example, once you go through the product training, you get a $1,000 bonus. Or you may get a bonus each month when you’re over a certain number of demos or client visits.
- Retention Bonus – A bonus for staying with the company for a certain amount of time. Turnover is costly for employers, so they may be willing to offer a bonus to guarantee that you will stay for a certain length of time. Usually, these are offered at one, two, or three years on the job. These are uncommon!
- Draw – An advance on sales commissions. There are two kinds of draws: 1) Non-recoverable draw – you just get it. 2) Recoverable draw – you have to pay the money back from commissions and usually don’t get any commission until the “draw balance” is paid back. We recommend that you talk to a recruiter if you have a job offer with a draw as it can be very nuanced. As an example of asking for a draw, someone we know was trying to turn down a job and the company wouldn’t take no for an answer. He threw out a high-ball number and asked for a $20,000 draw thinking they would say no, but they said, “Sure!” It ended up being a great fit.
- Stock or Options – An ownership share of the company. With tech jobs, restricted stock units (RSUs) are often offered for senior-level hires. Or at a startup, you may be offered options, which allow you to buy stock in the company at a pre-determined “strike” price.
- Commission – In sales, an amount paid based on the number of or dollar amount of sales you personally close. Sometimes you can adjust the percentage, sometimes your sales quota, or sometimes even how often your commissions are paid. It’s highly unusual for a company to change a commission plan for one employee, though, so bear that in mind!
Other Negotiation Areas
It could be that the company truly has no wiggle room on cash compensation. If they can’t give you more money, what else can you ask for? It depends on the company, but here are some ideas:
- Vacation – It used to be just a flat 2 weeks across the board, but unlimited vacation days are not uncommon. Just make sure to ask how PTO and sick days are handled. If they’re not considered vacation, there may be room for improvement there.
- Tuition/Professional Development Reimbursement or Stipend – Often you have to be at a job for a certain amount of time before you can use this continuing education/professional development benefit. While you may or may not be able to negotiate the amount or percentage, you might be able to shrink the waiting period, allowing you to use it sooner.
- Work Location – Are you in the office or working from home? Is it flexible? Do they reimburse for “work from home” expenses? Which do you want? It doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Work Schedule – Do you want to work a 35-hour week? Or four days a week? Again, ask for what you want.
How to Ask for More
As we’ve been saying, if you don’t ask for something, you won’t get it. Period. Conversely, just because you ask doesn’t mean that you WILL get it.
Realize that you have two job offers right now. If you push too hard on one, there’s a backup. (Careful not to push too hard on both!) Getting a better offer from one company can also give you more room to negotiate with the other company if that’s your preferred job.
We have two general rules around negotiating:
Rule #1: Don’t be defensive or deliver ultimatums – no one likes that.
Rule #2: It’s essential to be friendly in your negotiations. You can be pushy, but be professional, kind, and respectful. You want to keep friends and not burn bridges, whether you take the job or not.
Think about negotiating anything – you have to maintain friendships with the people on the other side of the table. Bend over backward to keep a smile on your face and be nice. You can ask for a lot, just keep them happy and excited to bring you on board. Use callbacks, which is where you refer to things your interviewers previously mentioned in the interview process. (It shows you’re paying attention and that you care.) You don’t want people to get locked down and refuse to budge on the job offer – it is in your best interest to get them to come to the table with more.
So you’re still considering these two job offers. They seem identical, but are they really equal? What can you judge an offer on besides salary? Your recruiter or the company itself should share any non-compensation value of the position early on in the interview process.
We recommend putting a spreadsheet together and comparing each offer based on:
- Benefits – Do they have what you need? Look at healthcare, childcare, continuing education options, life insurance, vacation, and so on. What’s most important to you and which company does it better?
- Location – Again, where and how are you working? Have you always wanted to move and one company offers relocation reimbursement? (Which any company asking you to relocate should do, by the way. Never pay for that yourself.) Is it a remote job or will you be in an office? Where is that office located? How long will your commute be each day? If it’s a remote position, will they reimburse you for a home office setup? (They should.)
Try to get as close to comparing apples to apples as you can before you make your decision. Benefits can be really confusing. Talk to an HR person, recruiter, or another external expert if you’re confused about anything.
Some things can’t be truly captured in a spreadsheet. You should understand what non-negotiables you have in terms of softer, less tangible parts of the job offer. We recommend ranking each of the following on a scale from 1-1,000 (if it’s 1-10, you end up with weird decimals):
Your Relationship with the Boss – This may be just a gut-level thing. How do you feel about him or her? Recognize here that you may have some internal biases that go with that assessment and your comfort level with the boss isn’t the only factor in terms of a good evaluation. Would it be better for you professionally to work for a person of color or a woman? Examine your own biases and really ask, “Why am I more comfortable here vs there?”
We can’t stress enough to pay a lot of attention to this. In most surveys about careers, the relationship with the boss is one of the key reasons why people either stay at a job or leave. It’s an essential measure of the quality of your experience.
Co-Workers and Lower-Level Leaders – Realize that the person who hires you may leave, so be sure to look at the rest of the leadership structure. Is your direct boss new or have they been around for years? Are they like the rest of the leaders at the company? What does that tell you about the company itself? Who are your co-workers? (Hint: check LinkedIn.)
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) – Does the company have an explicit DEI policy, or do they say it’s important but have nothing in writing? Do they have nothing at all?
Pay Equity – Are women and men paid the same rate for the same work?
Risk Level – How risky is it? How is the company doing? Is it an exciting new startup? An existing company that has acquired others? How able is the company to follow through on their promises?
Company Culture – What does the company say about its mission and vision? What are its values?
Company Reputation – What is the company’s public reputation? Take a look at GlassDoor, but do so with a grain of salt and in context. GlassDoor is a great tool, but it tends to attract the complainers who just want to flame companies. That said, look for patterns. Does everyone have the same complaint? What about praise? Also look on Google. Look at LinkedIn, both the company and the people who interview you. Read their personal recommendations and look at their careers.
The timing doesn’t always match when you have two offers. At some point you have to take a risk and choose one job over the other. Don’t stretch the process too long or it will appear disrespectful to your potential employers. Plus, if you take too long to decide between them, you may lose one job offer while you wait for another.
It’s easy to get lost in salary, benefits, and job titles, so it’s essential to step back and look at what’s most important to you.
Realize that one week into a new job you will know a ton more than you do now. All you can do is gather as much data as possible, be as thorough as you can, make sure to do a gut check, and go for it.
Questions? We’re here for you. Call us at 877.Hire.Edu or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It) (video overview and Masterclass: Win Workplace Negotiations)
Daniel Pink – To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (video overview)
Roger Fisher and William Ury – Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (video overview)
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